Author versus Publisher – the Female Edition

In the past week, there have been some interesting developments in the field of author versus publisher conflicts with agents caught in the middle. All of the current conflicts involve female writers for some reason:

A literary agent responds to writer Kiana Davenport, who had her publishing contract canceled when her publisher found out that she had self-published two collections of backlist short stories. Not only is this particular agent wholly on the side of the publisher, he also expresses himself quite unfortunately. Passive Guy, who actually is a lawyer in his offline life, takes apart his arguments here. The agent responds to Passive Guy here.

On a related note, last week the YA writing team of Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown went public with the fact that an agent had apparently offered them representation on condition of removing the POV of a gay character as well as references to that character’s gayness. The story passed quickly through the internet, other YA authors reported of similar experiences, a representative of the agency – who had not been named in the original post – claimed that it hadn’t happened that way at all, initiating a backlash against Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown. I blogged about the whole affair here and here.

On the whole, the experiences of Kiana Davenport and Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown and particularly the passive aggressive reactions of literary agents have not increased my faith in that particular profession at all.

More publisher vs. author conflict, this time without agent participation: British writer Polly Courtney publicly ditched her publisher Avon, a Harper Collins imprint, at the book launch party no less, because she was unhappy that Avon had slapped a chick lit style cover on her novel about sexism in the magazine industry. She is now planning to return to self-publishing for her next book.

The Daily Mail has also picked up the story, complete with tut-tutting disapproval about the fact (completely irrelevant to the story in question) that the author had once posted pole dancing photos of herself. The comments are full of the usual misogynism you can expect from rags like the Daily (Hate)Mail.

Now Polly Courtney is somewhat mistaken about the definition of chick lit, for chick lit is not just stories about young women in big cities looking for love and Mr Right – that would be contemporary romance. Instead chick lit specifically does include the issues facing modern young women in the workplace.

There’s a number of chick lit definitions out there. My personal favourite is this one given by genre pioneer Marian Keyes in an interview with The Guardian:

For Keyes, it is about the “dissonance between the self we present to the outside world and what is inside – the hopes, memories and longings that are rarely exposed”. Chick lit, like Sex and the City, she argues, has grown out of the socio-economic fact that women are not their own bosses but always subordinate to a more powerful man.

Based on the information from the two articles, Polly Courtney’s novels clearly fit into the genre as outlined by Marian Keyes. What is more, Keyes also complains about the bad covers, the fashion obsession and the fact that “chick lit” is a derogatory term and that those books are not taken seriously.

Indeed, the reactions that Polly Courtney received very much confirms these prejudices. Because while everybody applauded Barry Eisler when he walked away from his publisher, Polly Courtney gets called ungrateful and a bitch with a chip on her shoulder for doing the very same thing. It’s the good old double standard in action again.

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